For our next stop on July’s read around Europe, Keith Mansfield talks about reading this classic not in translation.
The only book I’ve ever read in its complete and wonderfully inspiring gorgeous French is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince, which most will know as The Little Prince. Perhaps it’s no surprise to hear I’ve been inspired by a children’s science fiction book about a little boy who lives alone on an asteroid? When it comes to children’s fiction I have a deep love of Harry Potter, but would argue Saint-Exupéry’s masterpiece is even more magical.
My French isn’t the best, but the book is visual in the sense of the most beautiful original illustrations by the author, as well as written in a visual style; if no one’s yet made it into an animated movie, perhaps I should start working on a script quickly. What motivates someone with only an ‘O’ level in a language to read a book in it? I did it for love, hoping to date a flame-haired Francophile who introduced me to it. That didn’t work out, but I fell in love with the book every bit as much as the person.
Eventually, the little prince visits Earth where he meets the book’s narrator in Africa. When I journeyed there and saw for myself the baobab trees that plague the prince’s asteroid, threatening to strangle the roses he cultivates, I was awed by their alien-ness. What other tree is so out of this world? And flying over the dunes following, I could feel Saint-Exupéry’s inspiration as he travelled the continent in an early plane, exploring and writing.
There is a great lesson I’ve taken from this special book. It’s from a conversation the little prince has with a fox that he meets who imparts a wonderful piece of advice: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essential est invisible pour les yeux.”
You see best with the heart. What matters is invisible to the eyes.
We’ll be featuring a different country most days this month, so do come back and find out more. And why not let us know about your favourite European author? Leave a comment below or share with us on Twitter, and you might be in the special ‘Our readers recommend’ post at the end of the series!